Boosting county production is the answer to Kenya’s food insecurity

President Ruto in distribution of relief food in Turkana County.

President William Ruto flags off relief food for distribution at Nakaalei in Turkana County on November 5, 2022. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Faced with what has been labelled the worst drought in decades, Kenya needs to seriously think of how to address the imbalances in food production that have seen some counties having deficits and others surpluses.

Recent media reports showing that some non-traditional arid lands were also moving into alarming stages and the increasing number of households in need of urgent assistance further underline the magnitude of the challenge.

Climate risks — such as prolonged drought periods, erratic weather patterns, declining soil fertility, low rainfall, poor rainfall distribution and climate-induced pests and diseases — continue to affect agriculture.

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The September 2022 Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) data confirm widespread below-average crop production in the marginal agricultural areas, with crop failure in Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, and Tharaka Nithi counties, where maize production was 1.0–7.0 per cent of the five-year average.

Most poor households have one to two months of food stock, compared to a typical two to four months before household food stocks are depleted.

During a recent visit to the Marakwet highlands in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, it became clearer to me how these hazards have affected outputs, especially potato yields and increased costs of production as well as the vulnerability of women and youth.

However, some collaborative efforts are beginning to rewrite the region's narrative of drought, malnutrition and conflict and showcase hope.

Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) project is one such effort. The CRAFT project is working with potato farmers in the Marakwet highlands to address high post-harvest losses and improve production.

CRAFT has partnered with Marakwet Highland Farmers’ Cooperative Society.

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At four tons/acre for smallholder farmers, the county's potato yield is way below the estimated country average of 7.6 tons/acre.

As the new administration gets down to work on delivering the litany of electioneering promises, it must prioritise improving county food production averages and reducing post-harvest losses and waste.

The cost of producing food that is wasted globally is estimated to be $750 billion each year. This amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes — enough to feed two billion people.